THE traveller cannot be long in Lombardy before his attention is attracted to the singularly picturesque costume of the Brianza. It is generally worn in its full richness by nurses in the wealthier families, and so is seen almost as often in the cities as in the Brianza itself, whence these nurses mostly come, and where it is now mostly a holiday affair.
Imagine a head-dress of silver needles so placed in the hair as to fashion an aureole; let the ears be weighted with massive rings, and a kerchief decorated with a large flower pattern be thrown over the shoulders, and it is easy to see that the costume possesses properties of great promise and high colour. The peasant women add to this costume the pretty little wooden slippers that click and clatter over the cobbled country lanes. Some forty or fifty years ago the peasant women all wore the full skirt, black bodice, and short sleeves, and the piece of cloth which crossed the foot to keep on the slipper was embroidered. Nor was the silver aureole ever missed from a married woman’s head. To-day the costume is yielding rapidly to the advance of world uniformity in fashions. The silver needles are called collectively l’argento; they are generally a present from the groom to the bride, and the simpler ones cost about forty-five to fifty lire.
So much time and skill are required in fitting the needles into the strands of hair that only the big horizontal needles are taken off at night, the rest being worn even in sleep, much as the Japanese women are said to treat their elaborate head-dresses. If the traveller in the Brianza exclaims at the seeming inconvenience of this method of treating the hair, he is assured that the women need have their hair done up only once a week.
The Brianza may be described in a general way as that triangular-shaped region included between the Como and Lecco arms of Lake Como. It is a district of special charm, greatly favoured by situation and fertility, rich in cultivated stretches, and mounting to forests and hill pastures. It is the abiding-place of cattle, horses, and sheep, and its lowlands are graced by several small lakes, Annone, Pusiano, Alserio, Segrino, and Montorfano. The great painter Segantini, to whom a special chapter has been assigned in this book, executed some of his earliest work in this region. The silk industry has its mulberry-trees and factories profusely scattered in the Brianza.
The small town of Erba is nearly in the geographical centre of the Brianza, about midway between the cities of Como and Lecco, but also directly accessible from Milan by rail, and by carriage road from Bellagio, at the tip of the triangle. This latter drive, from Erba to Bellagio by way of Canzo and Civenna, is among the most delightful in the entire region of the Italian lakes; from Civenna it is full of extended views over the lake arms of Lecco and Como, the smiling Tremezzina, and off to the sky-line near Chiavenna, where stand the dark bulwarks of the Engadine acting as pedestals for the silver statues of the North.
From Como the art lover should not fail to make an excursion to Saronno, about half- way to Milan by rail. At Saronno the best of the work of Luini and Gaudenzio Ferrari is to be seen in the pilgrimage church.